Ivorian forces attack ex-allies in worst violence since fall of Gbagbo
Ivorian forces attacked former ally the 'Invisible Commando' militia Wednesday in what has been described as the worst violence since the fall of ex-President Laurent Gbagbo.
REUTERS - Ivory Coast forces attacked formerly allied ‘Invisible Commando’ fighters in Abidjan on Wednesday in the most serious escalation of violence since former leader Laurent Gbagbo was toppled. The violence came amid efforts by the Ivorian army to stamp out pro-Gbagbo loyalists, and set back hopes of quickly restoring security and reviving the economy in the West African state after a bloody post-election power struggle.
“Our positions in Abobo and Ayaman have been under attack by elements of the FR
CI (Ivorian army) who accuse us of helping the pro-Gbagbo militias in Yopougon,” Ibrahim Coulibaly, the head of the Invisible Commando, told Reuters by telephone.
The 5,000-strong militia had fought alongside what is now the Ivorian army, a ragtag group of mostly former ‘New Forces’ rebels from the 2002 civil war, to topple Gbagbo.
Coulibaly had said on Tuesday he was loyal to new President Alassane Ouattara, and dismissed reports that his men had fallen out with other fighters, after a long history of friction between them and the New Forces.
The Invisible Commando and the New Forces have had little in common over the years beside their hatred of Gbagbo, and disagreements between them had at times been violent.
A source close to the FRCI confirmed the attack on Wednesday, saying some of Coulibaly’s forces had not met a deadline to join the national army.
Heavy weapons fire rang out in the area, residents said. “We hear detonations. There is heavy fighting,” Abobo resident Tiemoko Souala told Reuters by telephone.
“The fighting continues and we can hear vehicles moving through the streets, but we can’t go outside to find out what is going on,” said another resident, Amara Toure. “We hear kalashnikovs and heavy weapons.”
Fighting was also raging in the western neighbourhood of Yopougon as Ivorian forces launched an offensive to stamp out remaining pro-Gbagbo loyalists.
Days of heavy fighting brought Ouattara to power last week, ending a four-month wrangle, but the heavily populated areas of Yopougon remains awash with pro-Gbagbo fighters who retreated after a French and U.N.-backed assault led to Gbagbo’s arrest.
“The Republican Forces have gone on the offensive,” a source in Ouattara’s government told Reuters. “There are so many mercenaries (in Yopougon). They are robbing the population. Order has to be restored.”
There was no official comment from Ouattara’s government but a diplomat confirmed the operation and a member of the security forces who was involved said “mopping up” was under way.
In the last few weeks of the crisis, Gbagbo’s camp handed weapons to youth supporters in Abidjan and has long been accused of using mercenaries to resist pressure to step down.
Yopougon residents reported heavy fighting. “It is complicated. We have been hearing heavy explosions since yesterday,” Noel Deha told Reuters by telephone.
“There are clashes between the Republican Forces and the young militia. They want to chase the militia out.”
The fighting comes as residents in other parts of the city started going about their daily lives after weeks of clashes.
Ouattara won last November’s presidential election that Gbagbo also claimed to have won, sparking a violent struggle.
Well over 1,000 people were killed during the stand-off and more than a million others fled their homes.
French medical charity Medecins Sans Frontieres (Doctors Without Borders) reported a “dire” situation in the West of the country, where divisions between communities are the deepest and some of the worst atrocities are reported to have taken place.
“In western Ivory Coast, many people who fled violence dare not return home,” MSF said in a statement that detailed conditions in a camp for some 28,000 in the town of Duekoue.
“Living conditions in the camp are extremely harsh, with overcrowding, a lack of shelter, and short supplies of food and water ... The pressure on the camp is enormous. The number of people sheltering there far surpasses its capacity, and more are continuing to arrive,” MSF said.